Arab EFL Learners' Acquisition of Verbs of Senses

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This study attempts to explore the difficulties that Arab EFL learners of English encounter in the use of five verbs of senses when used as copulas, main verbs, main verbs with a metaphorical use, and as parts of idioms. A questionnaire consisting of three parts was specially designed to elicit the necessary data for this study at the levels of recognition and production. The subjects of the study were 30 randomly selected senior English major university students. The results of the study show that the students encountered tangible difficulties in using the five target verbs. A hierarchy of difficulty was established and the main causes of the problem were identified.

1. Introduction

The two essential constituents in the structure of any English sentence are the NP and VP. Proper grammatical and semantic knowledge of these two constituents is essential for successful communication. Verbs, the first major constituent of any well-formed sentence, can be categorized according to different syntactic and semantic parameters. One of the most common classifications is the one that categorizes verbs into state and action verbs. The former is defined by Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman (1999: 120) as verbs that "do not involve change. They depict a state situation that is assumed to last more or less indefinitely." The second, action or activity verbs, are perceived as "durative and describe ongoing action" (Celce-Murcia--Larsen-Freeman 1999:119).

State verbs include different classes such as verbs of emotion, cognition, perception and sense. Verbs of senses are those that describe one's feelings, perception or sensation of something. In their classification of verbs, Quirk and Greenbaum (1973: 47) refer to the class of verbs that includes the five verbs in our study as "verbs of inert perception and cognition". In their book A student's grammar of the English language (1990), Greenbaum and Quirk further classify stative verbs into five subcategories including those that indicate "states of perception" (1990: 55). Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman (1999: 120) refer to such verbs as verbs of "sensory perception", which include smell, see, hear, taste, feel, etc.

In this paper, the authors investigate the verbs of senses in terms of the difficulties they pose for Arab EFL learners. They endeavor to explore the extent to which upper-intermediate Arab learners of English can demonstrate an ability to comprehend and use the verbs of senses when used as copulas (referring to sensing and sensation), main verbs, main verbs with meaning extension (metaphorical use) and finally when used as parts of idioms. More specifically, the study seeks answers to the following questions:

1) How well can Arab EFL learners semantically differentiate the verbs of senses from each other?

2) How well can they use these verbs properly when used as copulas, main verbs, main verbs with meaning extension and finally as parts of idioms at the levels of both recognition and production?

3) What difficulties do learners encounter in using these verbs of senses?

4) What implications for teaching EFL can such a study provide?

2. Review of literature

Foreign language learners usually encounter different types of difficulties in the process of learning a target language, and Arab EFL learners are no exception. Many studies have been conducted to identify the problems that these learners encounter in the various stages of learning English and at the various linguistic levels starting from the segmental phonemes up to the level of sentence and discourse. Such studies have proved that acquiring the semantic and syntactic behavior of verbs tends to be more troublesome than is the case with nouns. This difficulty may be attributed to the fact that verbs are associated with complex semantic and syntactic features pertaining to tense, time, aspect and phase. Thus, verbs are cognitively more demanding than nouns in learning (Gentner 1981, 1982, 2006; Gropen et al. …